Hosting Your Web Apps with PikaPods

23 April, 2024

To self host or not … that is the question. And it’s a question that I think I answered for my self in previous post.

Despite what some folks with technical chops say, self hosting isn’t a piece of cake. Especially for the average computer user. That said, a couple or three people I know who fall into the average computer user category are curious about hosting their own web apps. But, as I mentioned, getting started isn’t easy — even with detailed instructions like these ones crafted and kindly provided by Derek Sivers.

That’s where PikaPods comes in. It makes running open source web apps if not easy then a bit easier. For just about anyone.

I took a dive into PikaPods between late January and early March, 2024. Let’s look at what I discovered.

What is PikaPods?

PikaPods is a hosting service that enables you to set up and run open source web apps with literally a few clicks. You can run your own apps and do it privately, securely, and without (for the most part, anyway) any kind of technical knowledge.

If you’re wondering about the privacy of the service, check out PikaPods’ privacy policy and GDPR statement.

You install and deploy web apps in what are called pods. Think of a pod as a box containing all of the digital plumbing that you need to run the software you’re using, along with the software itself. All of which gets set up automatically.

When I wrote this post in early March, 2024 PikaPods had 73 apps available to install. Those apps run the gamut of ones that many people would use every day to some fairly technical apps. Like what? Here are a few examples:

And even Nextcloud.

To be honest, I don’t have much use for most of those app — that’s more to do with me and my limited needs rather than the apps on offer, in case you’re wondering. But there’s a little bit of everything for everyone.

Getting Started

To do that, sign up for an account. When you do that, you get a $5 credit that you can use to play with some pods.

PikaPods, as you’ve probably guessed, is a paid service. Each pod you install costs anywhere from $1 to $3 or so a month to run. That $5.00 credit gives you a taste and if you keep using PikaPods after that credit runs out, you’ll need to top up your account; the minimum amount is $10, in case you’re wondering.

Once you’ve signed up and confirmed your email address, you’re ready to go. Which means adding pods.

Adding Pods

While logged in, click Available Apps on the toolbar and find the one that you want to install. Then, click Run Your Own, as shown below.

Selecting an app to install in PikaPods

This window displays:

The first part of setting up a pod in PikaPods

Give the pod a name to identify it — for example, that could be the name of the app or a name that’s more meaningful to you (or just fun). After you’ve done that, click the Env Vars tab. The view changes to this:

The second part of setting up a pod in PikaPods

Depending on the app, you’ll need to fill in some information — for example, a user name and a password to log into it. Some apps have a default user name and password that you’ll need to change once you log in, and others require a bit more information that can get somewhat technical.

After entering the required information, click the Resources tab to see this:

The final part of setting up a pod in PikaPods

This tab enables you to set the number of CPUs as well as the amount of memory and storage that your pod uses. You can generally get away the default settings. Or, if you need to, you can increase the amounts. Remember, though, that pushing up any of these amounts will add a bit to the monthly cost to run the pod.

Once you’ve done all of that, click Add Pod. It takes a few seconds for PikaPods to create a pod. Every pod is given unique, somewhat nonsensical, URL — for example, (no, that’s not a real URL, at least as far as I know).

When the pod is ready, click Open Pod, log in, and start using it. Like I did with WeKan, an open source alternative to Trello:

Working in WeKan via PikaPods

The process is generally that easy. At least with most apps. As I mentioned a few paragraphs ago, there are more than a few apps with options that I couldn’t fathom or for which I didn’t have an email server (which those apps seemed to need for … something). And, to be honest, the information around all of that from the developers of those apps were a bit too complicated for me to follow.

When you sign up, you’re limited to two pods. You can install more pods if you top up your account.

Managing Your Pods

What happens if you need to fiddle with some of the settings of a pod? Click My Pods on the toolbar. You’re taken to a dashboard listing your pods.

Click the gear icon in the bottom left of a pod’s listing, as shown below:

The Settings icon in PikaPods

You see this:

Settings for a pod in PikaPods

Click any of the tabs to change the pod’s name, increase or decrease resources, and (with some applications) enable SFTP access to the pod so you can transfer files. And if have a domain name lying around, can hook a pod up to a subdomain of the domain. See the documentation for more information.

You can also click the More button to:

Final Thoughts

PikaPods isn’t self hosting in the truest sense of the term — the apps and your data reside on someone else’s computer. That said, PikaPods makes it easier to run various open source web apps without needing to know much, if anything, about managing those apps and the digital plumbing they rely on. And while you have to pay a small monthly fee for each app that you use, being able to run those apps for yourself can be more than worth the price.

Scott Nesbitt